Raised in Las Vegas, Bigelow's fascination with paranormal encounters and the spiritual aspect of life is said to have grown out of childhood experiences, such as the night-time glow of nuclear explosions at the nearby Nevada Test Site, as well as rumors that the base held a crashed extraterrestrial craft. While Bigelow never had an extraterrestrial encounter himself, he did know people who swore that they had had unexplainable encounters, and even his own grandparents had a UFO experience.
Bigelow's dream of being involved in the space industry started at an early age - at age 15 he had vowed to devote his life to helping establish a permanent presence in space. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1967 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He started off by buying small rental properties, then moved into constructing dozens of apartment buildings and motels in and around Las Vegas, and in 1988 he founded Budget Suites of America. Bigelow's fortunes grew in parallel with the rise of Las Vegas as a tourist destination, until he had amassed so much capital he could now invest in his dream - the aerospace industry. According to Bigelow, he had kept that dream secret throughout his life: “I didn’t even tell my wife. She never knew. Because it’s possible that that kind of dream would never happen.” He believes the commercialization of space is a necessary step in reinvigorating space exploration, and has been extremely critical of NASA's monopolization of resources and goal-setting. He has been quoted as saying "NASA stands for 'No Access to Space for Americans'."
Bigelow seized his moment in 1999 when he took over a discarded NASA project which was centered on the merits of an inflatable space-station module known as 'TransHab'. He bought the rights to the program, and also employed former NASA employees who had worked on it. The modules have some distinct advantages over the traditional 'tin-can' modules - they weigh much less, which is very important to the physics of launching them, and also inflate once in orbit, which saves space on the transit. Fully inflated, Bigelow's modules are 45 feet in length, and 22 feet in diameter. The modules are powered by solar panels which extend from the ends of the solid core once in orbit, and have air-locks and docking adaptors built in to the ends, for visits from spacecraft, or also so that multiple units can be linked together.
On Wednesday, July 12th 2006, the project successfully launched its pathfinder mission - named Genesis I - from Russia via a Russian Dnepr rocket. Bigelow says that he plans to spend $500 million of his fortune on the project, over the coming decade. His plans also cater for providing lunar bases via his modules.
Involvement in Paranormal Field
In his book Reading the Enemy's Mind, remote viewer Paul Smith relates that in 1992 Robert Bigelow put the wheels in motion for a radio show on the paranormal, called Area 2000, hosted by Art Bell and featuring reports from George Knapp (whom Bigelow has had a long association with - Knapp was given an exclusive to the Skinwalker Ranch story, and also has covered the Bigelow space efforts) and Linda Moulton Howe. While Bigelow later withdrew sponsorship of the show, Art Bell continued with it and it later evolved into the massively popular Coast to Coast AM.
Over the past decade, Robert Bigelow has continued his backing of paranormal research. He created the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS) in 1995 to investigate border phenomena, stocking the advisory board with some of the leading lights in the field such as Jacques Vallee, Hal Puthoff, Melvin Morse and Edgar Mitchell. Employees of the organization were generally PhD scientists, as well as some former FBI field investigators and law-enforcement professionals. The NIDS website provides news and investigations into such wide-ranging topics as 'Black Triangle' sightings, cattle mutilations, consciousness studies and crop circles. NIDS was put into 'in-active' status in 2004 due to a lack of worthwhile cases to investigate.
In March 2009 Bigelow concluded a deal with the Mutual UFO Network to train a special rapid response team of Field Investigators able to be deployed within 24 hours to the scene of a major 'physical trace' UFO event (Category 2 or 3 in the classification system devised by researcher Jacques Vallee).
Bigelow - through NIDS - also bought the 'Skinwalker Ranch' in Utah where residents had reported UFO sightings, cattle mutilations and paranormal experiences. After the ranch shot to national news prominence, he flew to Utah and met with the owners, offering to buy the ranch for about $200,000. He staffed it with a full-time veterinarian and two scientists to monitor the strange activity (the account can be found in Hunt for the Skinwalker). It is believed that he still owns the ranch.
He says his interest in UFOs was spawned...
...when I was probably around 8 or 9. I began to hear the stories about members of my family that had had a couple of very good sightings, and one was a close encounter. They didn't see actually living creatures. What they saw was an object that they thought was an airplane on fire at first. They stopped their car; it was nighttime and the object was coming right for them. And it grew bigger and bigger in a very short time, a matter of maybe seconds, until it filled up the windshield. Then they realized it wasn't an airplane on fire; they didn't know what it was. Their car was stopped on the side of the road in a remote location at night and they thought they were dead -- until, at the last second before impact, it made a right-angle turn and zipped out of sight. And I remember how shook up they were. Even in telling me years later, they had a very serious look on their face.
Bigelow also funded the UNLV Bigelow Chair of Consciousness Studies at the University of Nevada, which is dedicated to the "rational investigation of the mysteries of human awareness, including the possibility of the persistence of consciousness after death." He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Rhine Research Center (formerly, The Foundation for the Study of the Nature of Man), and is an associate member of the Society for Scientific Exploration.
Bigelow shies from media attention, refusing to have photos taken by or for the press, and also denies television interview requests as well. This shyness has been taken by many people in the UFO research community as a sign of secrecy, and there have been claims that Bigelow is associated with intelligence agencies. These claims appear to be completely unsubstantiated, apart from the obvious links to government agencies through Bigelow Aerospace.
As unbelievable as it might seem for an entrepreneur in the modern world, Bigelow also says he has never sent an e-mail. “E-mail is a very sloppy medium," he says. "It’s not pristine at all.” He is said to prefer phone calls, faxes and letters for communication.